Monday, September 23, 2019

Resisting the Lowest Common Denominator: A Priest’s Cri de Coeur

Jesus did not settle for the LCD

A priest shared with me some insights from a meeting he attended of diocesan priests with their bishop. In what follows, I will be drawing upon what he told me.

In the meeting, the bishop said that the clergy should work against the temptation to settle for the “LCD,” the lowest common denominator. For, if we allow every member of the clergy to “roam free,” as it were, and aspire to no diocesan-wide standards of excellence, the principle of entropy, or we could just say man’s fallen nature, tells us that things will tend to roll down hill and decay over time, and eventually — at some point not too far down the road — every parish will face immense pressure to conform to this LCD: whatever options are least confrontational, most politically correct, and most socially acceptable will eventually win the day. It takes real vision to see this inevitable outcome and to combat it from the start. Free choice can be attractive, but ultimately results in division and degradation.

The priest then reflected: this is exactly what I and many brother priests have seen clearly happening with the liturgy. Because of the equivocal nature of the Missal of Paul VI, which leaves so much at the disposal of the celebrant, we have quickly slid to the LCD in every area where there is legitimate free choice. In other words, there is no free choice within the system.

For example:

1. A priest is free to celebrate ad orientem or versus populum — in fact, the Missal presumes celebrating ad orientem, which would put us in harmony with the rest of Tradition. But because of the LCD factor, only versus populum is acceptable. Any priest who chooses to celebrate ad orientem is seen as divisive, and is eventually pressured into conforming, unless he wants to be ostracized not only from the faithful, but even from his bishop and brother priests. But is it the priest who is the source of division? Or is it the freedom to choose either option that creates the division? It is the inevitable result of the LCD factor. Priests are accused of fighting what are called “the liturgy wars,” but are they to be blamed, or does the blame not rest squarely on the shoulders of Paul VI and his ambivalent Missal?

2. A priest is free to incorporate as much Latin as he would like. But because of the LCD, de facto only the vernacular is possible — despite the anathema from the Council of Trent: “If anyone says . . . that the Mass ought to be celebrated in the vernacular tongue only . . . let him be anathema.”

3. A priest is free to incorporate the Extraordinary Form into his parish, or his ministry, but again because of the LCD factor, this is seen as extreme and rigid, and is frowned upon to the point where it is de facto nearly impossible.

4. A priest is under no obligation to concelebrate and is perfectly free to choose to assist in choir so as to be able to celebrate his own Mass, a custom hallowed by many centuries of tradition in the Roman Rite and clearly allowed by the new Code of Canon Law. But de facto, there is immense pressure upon him to concelebrate because of the LCD factor, and to not conform results in receiving the label of being “not community-minded.” At some large gatherings for retreats or conventions or meetings, there is literally no possibility of a private Mass unless you bring your own altar, since such things are no longer even contemplated.

5. A priest is supposed to use a communion paten and not use EMHC’s except under extraordinary circumstances, but because of systemic habitual abuse in the American Church and the LCD factor, doing either of these things would be seen as extreme. The pragmatic norm, on the contrary, is to not have a communion paten but to insist on having EMHC’s.

6. The faithful are encouraged to receive Holy Communion on the tongue which is the traditional custom and still the universal norm as per the Vatican; meanwhile, they are permitted to receive in the hand as long as certain serious conditions are met. But because of the LCD factor, somewhere between 95–98% of the faithful receive in the hand. And everywhere, children receiving First Communion are not even taught the traditional practice, in spite of it still being “on the books.”

7. The same can be said of sacred music, church architecture, sacred vessels, vestments, preaching, etc., etc., etc. We are all now forced by social pressure to conform to the LCD. And what happens when a priest doesn’t want to conform to the LCD but wants to raise the bar? Well, typically the choice is either: conform to the LCD, or hit the highway. The dynamic subtly eats away at the bishop’s own integrity, because when he is confronted with complaints about a “difficult” or “demanding” priest — as identified promptly by Susan from the Parish Council — he must either stick his neck out and risk his reputation to defend the priest, or take the quieter path of pressuring the priest to conform to the LCD or be removed.

It is as if everyone is under the spell of the LCD. Such is the division that has been sown into the heart of the Church, and especially into the heart of the priesthood and religious life, by the Missal of Paul VI.

Order — or Disorder?
The laity need to understand this phenomenon if they wish to grasp why so many faithful priests who want to celebrate in harmony with tradition, and want the faithful to experience the fullness of this rich treasure that we have as Catholics, are afraid to do so, or perhaps suffer a crisis when the tension between their ideals and the LCD reality becomes too intense. Some think that there is a huge conspiracy that planned all this, and certainly this may be true, since no doubt the cunning of the devil is involved. But it can also be explained as the result of societal entropy. Because of original sin, everything tends towards decay, as we see in the movies, music, and media of our culture. The Church is immune from this decay only in her divine element; she is by no means immune to it in her human element, unless her members fight consciously and vigorously against it. The traditional liturgy had long been a barrier against this natural process, but the new Mass has let this process into the Church like a flood.

This “Trojan horse in the City of God” (to use the expression of the great Dietrich von Hildebrand), this Trojan horse in the sanctuary in the form of a new Mass, did not spring up out of nowhere. Its principles had been brewing among modernist theologians and their heirs, the theologians of the nouvelle théologie, expressed in the false distinction made by Fr. Yves Congar between the “unalterable structures” of the Church and the “accessory, changeable superstructures.”

But this mentality is nothing less than a betrayal of a mystical person, as one lover of tradition so poetically expressed it:
I do not love a skeleton nor vital organs, I love Her face, Her sparkling clothes and even Her sandals, Her entire being. With the spiritual canticle I will sing of the hair on Her neck that charmed us as well, her children, as it ravished the heart of her Spouse. Oh, may those who love the Church understand! In her features and her slightest gestures, something indescribably exquisite enraptures us to the summit of her essential Mystery. The liturgical movements, the hymns, the ornamentation of churches, the words of the catechism and the sermon, this flesh, this manner of walking, the sound of the voice, the color of the eyes, revealed the very soul, immediately, and we were struck, intoxicated by it, for Her ancient and universal soul, Her intimate life that came to comfort us, was the Holy Spirit in Person! [1]
This is the reverence that a Catholic should have towards the received rites that come down to us from tradition, and all of their ornamentation. But the new Mass incarnates the false principle of Fr. Congar by deliberately tossing all of this out of the window in a massive overhaul, giving the impression to faithful Catholics and to the world that the Catholic Faith can change its entire appearance. Since changing the so-called “accessory, changeable superstructures,” we have become painfully aware that they were instead an important part of the solid rock that formed our sure foundation, or to use the above imagery, the beautiful wedding garments of Holy Mother Church, so visibly radiant in her sacred rites. And now we find ourselves upon a foundation of sand, always shifting, and — if we are willing to be honest with ourselves — a foundation always eroding down to the LCD, again and again, like a bird with a broken wing that can only manage to throw itself a few inches, or an airplane with faulty engines that rises up from the runway only to crash just beyond it.

My correspondent concluded with this cri de coeur:
If other priests want to accept the status quo, the tyranny of the LCD, that is their decision, between them and God. Perhaps not everyone needs to fight on the front lines and resist usque ad sanguinem. But for us whose hearts belong to the Church of all times, and to her traditional rites, we seek nothing more than to access them in freedom, nothing else than to live and die with them, nothing other than to nourish the faithful with this potent food and drink. May God raise up more and more priests with such a heart.


[1] From the Abbé Georges de Nantes’s “Letter to My Friends,” no. 178, August 6, 1964. Like Padre Pio, de Nantes was reacting to the devastation already being visited on the Tridentine Mass in the mid-sixties, prior to the coup de grâce of 1969. See here for the quotation as well as the mention of Congar.

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